Sunday, November 20, 2016

This Film Should Be Played Loud ... 40 Years of The Last Waltz

What is Shangri-La?
It's a club house where we get together and play. Make records.
Kind of better. It's like an office, I guess.It used to be a bordello.
A bordello?
You can tell by the wallpaper.

On November 25, 1976, The Band played what was to be their last show. What they did not know was that, with the help of a handful of very special musical friends and the under the direction of Martin Scorsese, this concert film would become of the greatest concert films every produced. It captured The Band at their summit and put some of our musical greats in a time capsule of musical decadence. While there are musical politics surrounding the making of the film, all should be assured that the music fan only sees what greatness came from that night.

Where else are you going to find Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Allen Toussaint, Muddy Waters, Ringo Starr, and Van Morrison performing on one stage. It was an odd era of music as the grandiose behavior and decadence was beginning to wane on many. Bill Graham, concert promoter legend, spearheaded the concert at his venue, Winterland on Thanksgiving Day. Concert goers would enjoy a full dinner before the show.

If you want the full experience, you must watch the film and listen to the recordings. Some of the show's highlights were not included in the final cut. But Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson gave us 11 songs that are a snapshot of an era. The additional songs by the artists are simply the gratuitous adornments to an already glittery affair.

Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, and Bobby Charles
From Levon Helm's passionate performance of The Night they Drove Ole Dixie Down to the classic concert closer, The Weight, each song is its own timeless masterpiece. By this point, The Band had been touring for over fifteen years and the excesses began to break everyone down. But to their credit, they ended at their best. While there were subsequent attempts - this was the quintessential The Band.

A great example of the talent of The Band that was on stage at Winterland on November 25, 1976, can be seen and heard in what is the show's opening song. The band is strong, energetic, and seems like they could go on for a few hours. This was actually their last song of the night - over five hours from when they
first started playing.

Because of technology and social media, we will never, ever have moments like these again. You bought paper tickets, probably did lines of coke off your dinner plate, and then sang for over five hours to some of the greatest musicians to play their craft. There was no simulcast or YouTube of it. Besides Scorsese's vision, this is all we have of this moment in time. Music fans had some dinner and watched an amazing show, not realizing they were a part of something so very special that would still be performed and remembered so vividly forty years later.

Levon Helm and Ringo Star

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